Cows have started wandering onto the Eastern Main Road as a result of illegal land clearing in the Valencia Forest Reserve.
Farmers from the Turure Dairy Farming Development which runs adjacent to the Eastern Main Road say the destruction of the forest reserve is removing the natural barrier which keeps their cows safely away from the busy main road.
For decades, the thin stretch of the protected Valencia Forest Reserve has served as a buffer separating seven of the 30 Turure Dairy farms from the Eastern Main Road. The dairy farmers who contacted Cari-Bois Environmental News Network said that situation has deteriorated dramatically since the lockdown triggered by COVID-19.
“None of my animals go inside that forest because they are afraid. But as they cut down the forest, the animals will go in,” said one of the farmers who asked not to be identified, citing fear of retaliation from those responsible for clearing the land.
The farmer said they have tried to fence off the area to keep their cattle from wandering off but the fencing kept being destroyed by falling trees.
“I have the material to fix it but I’m not doing nothing because of what happening’s here,” he declared.
The farmers worry that it is only a matter of time before cows and cars collide with serious consequences for the motoring public, their animals and their pockets. They cited a recent warning about their liability from a police officer who came upon them as they retrieved cows that had escaped onto the main road.
“Where am I getting the money to put out to see about a man’s car?” one of the farmers wanted to know.
Cari-Bois was told that the land is being cleared illegally by persons who intend to sell plots to other squatters. The farmers shared their belief that residents of a nearby squatting establishment, created in 2014, are responsible.
In the 1960s, state lands were allocated for large-scale dairy development in Trinidad and Tobago. Turure Dairy Farming Establishment was established under this initiative and the farmers there today would like to carry on this legacy.
Discontent with their current situation was a shared sentiment however, as they revealed they no longer feel safe on their farms. They linked their latest experiences with praedial larceny to members of the squatting establishment.
“They come right up here and take the heifer,” said one farmer while another lamented that farmers now have to tie their dairy cows in the back.
The group said they have contacted the relevant authorities to deal with the matter but are yet to see any action. They now fear that the new forest clearings will be developed into a squatting establishment, similar to the one created in 2014.
Among the agencies contacted so far by the farmers are the Land Settlement Agency (LSA), the Commissioner of State Lands for Sangre Grande, and the Forestry Division in the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries.
Cari-Bois reached out to LSA CEO, Hazar Hosein, who explained that while his agency is responsible for collecting information on such matters, it lacks the power of enforcement. He added that the authority to take action lies with the Commissioner of State Lands, which falls under the Ministry of Agriculture Land and Fisheries.
Dominic Hinds, communications manager at the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries commented on behalf of The Commissioner of State Lands for Sangre Grande and their Forestry Division, saying that an investigation would be launched into the matter.